You must have heard by now… about the struggle to find and keep qualified teachers in Jewish Early Childhood Education. As a director myself, of Temple Isaiah Preschool in Los Angeles, a Reform congregation preschool with over 250 children, you can imagine what it is like to look towards the start of the school year and only have a partial staff.
Like all people, teachers need support. This support takes many forms:
Physical support in the form of materials for their classrooms AND compensation for their bills and expenses.
Emotional support in the form of unconditional positive regard and constructive feedback to inform their practice.
Cognitive support in the form of professional development, communities of practice, and a cohort in which to share ideas.
At the 2022 ECE-RJ Conference in November, we can help you in all three of those critical areas of teacher retention. In fact, studies have shown conclusively that events such as this one help retain teachers for up to two more years past its conclusion.
How? We have devised a conference that addresses all three needs that teachers have and by attending, teachers will:
see the financial support of their institutions who pay for their attendance
gain additional mastery of practice in Jewish ECE
meet with and collaborate with other teachers from around the country
engage with materials and share experiences that they can take back to their classrooms immediately
develop stronger Judaic practices
return to their classrooms with renewed passion, determination, and a sense of pride and professionalism
Don’t miss this opportunity to really support and show your own appreciation for the work your teachers do.
Follow this link and sign up now for the 2022 ECE-RJ Conference in San Diego, November 2-5!
Questions? Feel free to reach out to Tricia Ginis, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
The past two years for ECE-RJ and me as president have been exciting, full of unexpected changes and challenges, and required much thinking, rethinking, doing, and redoing. I imagine that it was similar for each of us in our personal and professional lives.
I have heard and used the word "unprecedented" so many times – usually referring to something negative. Unprecedented global pandemic. Unprecedented mass murders. Unprecedented school closures. Unprecedented staff shortages. I recently heard someone say, “I hope we never see unprecedented times again.”
But isn't every day unprecedented? Every day over the past two years, every day before that, and every day in the future is unprecedented. No two days are exactly alike, and each morning we wake up, we have an unprecedented day ahead of us. We have an opportunity to look at our jobs and our lives in a new light. An opportunity to rethink and redo, to make the world a better place. An opportunity to lay the groundwork for each young life, each family we touch to grow into themselves and their Jewishness with joyous learning and community.
In the months before I was installed as president of ECE-RJ, Lisa Samick and I had many discussions about what we wanted to do in the next few years. We were so excited! Our planned path took many twists and turns. And a few nosedives. But through it all, ECE-RJ members were always our top priority. So, together with the Board of ECE-RJ and members joining in, we rethought and redid and rethought and redid again. If you joined us for the 2022 plenary, you heard about our revised mission and vision statements and a new board structure that brings more members together. Keep your eyes on UNITE, the member forums, and social media for more updates and how you can engage with ECE-RJ in the unprecedented days ahead.
And now, with Lisa as President, Ellen Lefkowitz as First Vice President, the entire board, along with Executive Director Tricia Ginis and URJ Liaison Rachel Margolis and the amazing membership of ECE-RJ, our organization is in great shape and great hands, and on a phenomenal path that will inevitably have twists and turns and will keep moving forward.
On a personal note, I want to thank Lisa Samick, Rachel Margolis, Tricia Ginis, Ellen Lefkowitz, Pam Ranta, April Schafer, Lori Kowit, Leslie Scheck, Cathy Goldberg, Zoë Miller, Sheila Purdin, Shelly Sender, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Cathy Rolland, Judi Goozh, Marc Newman, and the many, many others in ECE-RJ who supported me and continuously and consistently elevate the field of Jewish Early Childhood Education and ECE-RJ.
I’m looking forward to each unprecedented day ahead. I hope to see you in San Diego in November for the first ECE-RJ in-person conference in over two years!
Fern Katz, Immediate Past President, ECE-RJ
Director of Early Childhood Education
Chicago Sinai Congregation
My heart is broken.
Yesterday, I was installed as the next President of ECE-RJ. In a zoom room, filled with colleagues, friends and family, I was truly overwhelmed and feeling so much gratitude and love.... and then the call ended, I turned my phone back on and it was like all the air left the room.
Ten days after a horrific shooting in a grocery store in Buffalo, NY, 19 children and 2 adults were killed in their classrooms in their elementary school in Uvalde, TX. 19 second, third and fourth graders, 1 teacher and 1 school employee (the news as of now).
It is enough.
As a Director of a school, I can’t help but going to a dark place – what if…
My social media news feed is flooded with “thoughts and prayers” – and we need time for that. But, we also need to take action.
Over the next weeks and months, you’ll hear a lot about what I hope to accomplish in my presidency, about the goals that the board has set for ECE-RJ, and the impact it will have on the world of Early Childhood Jewish Education; but for now, we have some serious work to do.
In my first act as President, ECE-RJ will be making a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety on behalf of our entire organization. We invite you to join us in doing this - every $1 makes a difference in their ability to advocate and fight.
In the meantime, though, we also need to make space to heal and to process and so I invite you to join me on zoom on Friday afternoon at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT/ 12pm PT. We will have a moment of silence and say the Mourners' Kaddish for the victims of this heinous event and then we will just have space for us to talk and to support one another. Please register for the zoom HERE.
We are including below some links to resources that may be useful in your own communities – both in terms of helping parents and educators to support the children that they care for and in terms of advocacy and education. It is by no means an exhaustive list and I encourage each of you to share out the resources and organizations that are doing this important work – please use our FB page and the forum as a platform to help us all take action.
We are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it (Pirkei Avot 2:21)
I am thinking of each and every one of you and of the families in Uvalde.
Incoming President of ECE-RJ
Supporting young children through tragedy:
Child Mind Institute – Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Today Show: An Age by Age Guide to talk about shootings
Fred Rogers: Helping Children with Tragic Events in the News
National Child Traumatic Stress Network – Helping Children with Traumatic Grief
Religious Action Center: Gun Violence Prevention
I Have Missed Relationships the Most
I think that what is most different for me these past two years, and what seems to affect all the different aspects of my life – home, family, friends, work, organizations (ECE-RJ), etc. – is the actual building of relationships. I still have most of the same relationships I had before, but I have not had the opportunity to build many new relationships. I would not have thought I would miss it so much, considering how hard it can be to develop or strengthen a relationship.
As an EC director, last year it was harder than ever before to get to know new families well and this year it is only a little easier. It has been so long since parents could spend time schmoozing in the lobby with each other and me, so long since we have had an in-person Tot Shabbat dinner where I got to know the extended families of the children and welcome out of town grandparents who came in to visit on that particular weekend so they could go to Tot Shabbat, so long since I have seen the faces of siblings without masks.
I miss in-person professional development, meetings with colleagues, and conferences. I even miss (but not much) the initial and sometimes awkward moments of trying to remember names and pronounce them correctly. I miss the next part of a new relationship- where two or more people get to know each other, finding the commonalities and putting more emphasis on those than the differences. I miss playing Jewish Geography - the back and forth of finding who you have in common – because there almost always is someone.
I have so greatly missed having an in-person ECE-RJ Conference to attend. I miss the learning, the praying, the singing, the talking, the celebrating. But mostly I miss going to an ECE-RJ conference and seeing old friends, and then leaving the conference with new friends, knowing that by the next conference the new friends will be old friends. Please, come to the November 2022 ECE-RJ Conference in San Diego – Lech Lecha: Moving Forward Together. Reconnect. Reimagine. Rebound. This conference is going to be a very special experience – one that I think we all need. If you are my old friend, please come so we can have a real hug. If you are a friend that I don’t know yet – I cannot wait to meet you, and to soon think of you like an old friend, too.
Reflecting On This Year's Kallah
Soon after the 2022 Virtual Kallah, I found myself sitting in my office with an overwhelming sense of personal and professional fulfillment.
My mind began to wander. I first thought about all the fantastic sessions we offered and was blown away by the caliber of speakers and the amount of information we could cover in such a short time.
For some reason, I started to think about specific pieces that stuck with me, like Rabbi Sandra Lawson singing a song to us that she had written for her mom, "You Can Be Anything." It was such a personal story that she shared about her mother's support and love.
I thought about Rachel Hall and Tani Prell's session about creating anti-oppressive classrooms and realized how much we have to learn and how much intentional work needs to be done in this area.
I remember Eliana Rubin sharing her story and feeling so proud of her strength and ability to feel comfortable to share and vulnerable enough to allow us in. I teared up as I thought about the shared stories during the panel discussion. The feeling of support and understanding could be felt through Zoom.
All of the attendees were as mesmerized as I was. We spent Shabbat afternoon with Dr. Tamar Andrews, learning and sharing baking stories. Each one reminded us of the relationships and memories we had in the kitchen with family and friends. She shared that "Real relationships that elevate us and our lives require simple and honest ingredients that we put in by hand. Ingredients such as communication, empathy, and love. We have to work on these relationships quite a bit until they form into real ones and then allow these relationships the time they need until they bake into something that we savor."
Soon after, I realized how lucky we were to have scheduled a Havdalah and reflection program to process the work and learn from the week together. The timing was unbelievable as Havdalah began just a few hours into the hostage situation in Colleyville. The time together was so meaningful.
Yolanda Savage-Narva shared a poem by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays.
I have only just a minute,
Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me, can't refuse it.
Didn't seek it, didn't choose it.
But it's up to me
to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it.
Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute,
but eternity is in it.
It was a perfect culmination of the 2022 ECE-RJ Kallah and left us with a charge to continue the work to Listen, Learn and Act towards transformational change.
For those who attended the 2022 Virtual Kallah, I hope you left with the tools and mindset to bring what you learned back to your early childhood program and temple community and with the intention of Lishmoa, Lilmod, Lif'ol: LISTEN, LEARN AND ACT.
The Board Is Working on A New Organizational Mission and Vision
February 2022As I am writing this, I have just completed Day 2 of the ECE-RJ mid-year Board Meeting – I am both drained and energized. While we have a monthly meeting to work on the organization's regular business, the Board meets twice a year for a few days to work on big picture items. There was a time when the ECE-RJ Board met in person and worked on whiteboards, giant Post Its, and chart paper. This is not that time – and even though we are meeting on Zoom, we will still be able to work together and accomplish some heavy tasks ahead of us.
It is essential for ECE-RJ to be robust and relevant and to strengthen Jewish Early Childhood Education in congregations across North America. The timing was right for us to look in the mirror and make decisions about who we are, who we are not, and who we should be.
We asked URJ North American Board member, Chuck Gealer, to help us work through the challenging task of revising or recreating ECE-RJ's mission and vision statements – and it is our good fortune that Chuck agreed. Chuck has been guiding us, pushing and pulling us to dig deep, think, discuss, and synthesize our ideas, beliefs, thoughts, and goals. And reminding us that this is a process that will take months.
We are currently in the middle of this process, and I am both drained and energized. I am looking forward to bringing more information to you over the coming months.
It is an exciting time to be a member of ECE-RJ.
Another Successful Kallah is in the Books
Kallah gives us sacred time and space to come together and support one another in our learning. This year's Kallah was no different. It was a time to share our journeys and get reinvigorated with the joy of why we do what we do. Like Kallah's past, we unwound, laughed, sang, and celebrated who we are and what we do.
This year, our focus was advocating for equality and creating communities where everyone is accepted and celebrated. Early childhood centers play a significant role in creating a welcoming congregational community. As directors, assistant directors, and teachers, we must lead in welcoming and supporting Jews and educators of color, advocating for LGBTQ+ awareness and minority rights, and offering equal access and accessibility to all.
For four days, we explored the many ways we can work together to open our ears and widen the tent surrounding us. We had a slate of presenters who showed us how to create a responsive community by breaking barriers and building brindges: Lishmoa, Lilmod, Lif'ol (Listen, Learn, Act).
The workshops allowed for deep and meaningful conversations that challenged us to explore the importance and value in listening to others with an authentic and open mindset.
We learned from various voices and perspectives, providing us with essential takeaways to facilitate much-needed change—to take action, break down barriers, and build bridges.
If you have never attended a conference or a Kallah, I highly recommend you do.
Please take a look at the recap of the Kallah and mark your calendars for our next IN-PERSON (fingers crossed!) ECE-RJ Conference in San Diego, CA, November 2-5, 2022 .
A New Year Brings Hope
Happy 2022! This is going to be an important year for young children. It looks like we are going to see two major changes that will have an immense impact on life and society. It is expected that the Build Back Better Act will pass with funding for early childhood education and that the vaccine for Covid-19 for children under 5 years of age will be approved by the FDA.
I am really excited about the vaccine. I hope that it will bring a turning point for this crazy disease that has impacted every aspect of all of our lives. It seems that almost everywhere I go – in person and virtually – from work, to family get-togethers, to funerals, to social media – I hear the phrases “Follow the Science” and “Read the Data.” The scientists who have developed the vaccines, the scientists who interpret the data, the ones who figure out how to fund the research and development, the medical professionals who give the vaccines, the truck drivers who bring the vaccines to the pharmacies, the packaging engineers who designed the packaging, the hazardous waste collectors, every single one of these people, every person who has had a hand in developing, distributing, promoting, and all the other thousands of steps it will take for everyone to have access to this vaccine … every single one of them was once a young child.
Each of these individuals, at one point or another, was the recipient of early childhood education. It may have been in a “formal” environment (classroom) or an “informal” place (home, playground). It may have been “play-based” or “academic” or watching Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Wheel of Fortune. The education may have been planned and intentional, or it may have been organic and unexpected. But at some point, each of these people who have a hand in getting this vaccine into the arms of young children, learned how to read and count, think and sort, categorize and create. Maybe they read science journals and maybe they read traffic signs. Maybe they do trigonometry and maybe they count the boxes they load on the truck.
I want to thank all their teachers. The classroom teachers, the parents and caregivers, the babysitters and grandparents, the neighbors, siblings, Big Bird, Mr. Rogers and Vanna White. And you. I want to thank you in advance, because the future scientists and truck drivers, economists and politicians, the ones who are going to take us to even higher heights of science, more brilliant art, music, and literature, and the ones who may bring about a peaceful world – they are in our classrooms, our programs, our sanctuaries, our parks, and our homes, now.
So, on those days when it is hard to get out of bed and face yet another day of pandemic preschool, remember - the change makers, the ones who will make the world a better place, they are in front of you right now.